2016 is shaping up to be a contentious election year, and not just on the national stage. One of Leon County’s most anticipated local races is for Supervisor of Elections. Two of the candidates came together Thursday for a public forum.
Tena Pate has worked in state government for two decades, most recently under Governor Rick Scott. Mark Earley first joined the county’s elections office in 1986, and boasts the endorsement of current supervisor Ion Sancho. The candidates agree on many issues, but one area of contention is the 10% of Floridians who can’t vote because of felony convictions. For twelve years, Pate oversaw the state’s notoriously restrictive restoration of felons’ voting rights. Now that she’s out of the chair, she’s distancing herself from Governor Scott’s policies.
“I don’t believe they should be voting while they’re serving their sentence, but I would like to let us have the conversation of not taking the rights away of non-violent offenders. As far as the current rules, I believe they could be tweaked, modified,” she said.
Early gets straight to the point.
“Frankly I believe Florida’s policy is one of the worst in the nation. I think it’s somewhat of an embarrassment for Florida. I think the statutes regarding and the policies regarding restoration of felons’ rights need to be overhauled, not just tweaked,” he said.
Earley says twenty years’ worth of experience and insider knowledge sets him apart. He says he helped Ion Sancho build a strong system and a statewide reputation.
“I’ve instructed about a third of the counties and trained their staffs and even their supervisors throughout the last several decades. Ion has sent me out to do that for the state. And I think that establishes me as a leader in elections with great judgment,” he said.
Pate herself acknowledges the elephant in the room: why would voters not choose the candidate with decades of elections experience?
“Many individuals serve as supervisor of elections who have never served in the elections office before: farmers, bankers, developers, state legislators, et cetera...” she said.
The third candidate in the race, State Democratic Representative Alan Williams, was absent, citing a scheduling conflict. Williams didn’t attend another candidate forum earlier this week, and skyped in instead.